Räikkönen’s F1 career hangs in the balance
Unimpressed by Kimi’s failure to improve this season, Ferrari are now considering a replacement
Kimi Räikkönen will be dropped by Ferrari – and will therefore be out of Formula 1 – for next season unless he manages a remarkable turnaround in form over the next few races.
No final decision has been taken by Ferrari on the future of the 2007 world champion, nor about who his replacement as Sebastian Vettel’s team-mate would be. But if Räikkönen is axed, Ferrari’s preferred replacement is believed to be current Red Bull team leader Daniel Ricciardo.
Ferrari’s opinion of Räikkönen has changed fundamentally since the spring. After the first four or five races of 2015 both sides seemed happy, although the team had demanded that Räikkönen improve his qualifying form.
Räikkönen was happier with the feel of the new car than he was in 2014, when he was outpaced by then team-mate Fernando Alonso, and Ferrari are content with the more amicable relationship between him and Sebastian Vettel.
But Räikkönen’s qualifying form has not improved and his performances in Monaco, Canada and Austria – where he was eliminated in Q1 – have pushed Ferrari to look elsewhere.
While Räikkönen is not quite as far off Vettel in qualifying as he was Alonso in 2014, the margins are in the same region – 0.47secs on average to Vettel this year, compared to just over 0.53secs to Alonso last year. Ferrari have also been concerned by his two spins under power in Canada and Austria, the latter leading to his first-lap elimination after he was hit by Alonso’s McLaren. Equally, his behaviour in qualifying in Austria, where he made a mistake, backed out of a lap, and then blamed the team for not communicating that he did not have time left for another flying lap, did not go down well.
Assuming the decision to lose Räikkönen is taken, Ferrari will target Ricciardo first. Over the winter, Ricciardo signed a new three-year contract with Red Bull, and team boss Christian Horner – who says Ferrari “had a sniff” at Ricciardo in 2014 – says they would not consider selling him even if Ferrari came calling.
Horner said: “We have a long-term multi-year agreement with Daniel.” When it was noted that he’d said similar things about Vettel’s contract before his move to Ferrari, Horner clarified: “Daniel’s is structured in a different way than Sebastian’s. He knows the team’s desire to be competitive and he believes in the team and there is no risk or discussion of him being anything other than a Red Bull driver for a minimum of three years.”
But given Renault’s struggles this season, it is possible that Ricciardo would want to move, in which case there is little Red Bull could do to keep him. They would be reduced to negotiating a price with Ferrari to buy out his contract.
Ferrari’s only concern about Ricciardo is the potentially destabilising effect signing him might have on Vettel, following his strong season as Vettel’s team-mate at Red Bull in 2014. That year Ricciardo won three races, while four-time champion Vettel went without a single victory.
Although there have been internal questions about whether Vettel is as fast as Alonso, overall the team are extremely happy with him, because of his consistency, work ethic and the positive effect he has on the atmosphere within the team.
If Ferrari can’t get Ricciardo, Force India’s Nico Hülkenberg is also on their list, even though they are slightly concerned that he has been beaten by team-mate Sergio Pérez a few times. Meanwhile, their interest in Williams racer Valtteri Bottas is understood to have cooled because of his unconvincing form against Felipe Massa this season. The feeling at Ferrari is that if Bottas cannot consistently beat Massa, he is not good enough to be a Ferrari driver.